'Thin, tired, and unwell': My mental health recovery

On my 21st birthday there was no party, no yard glass, no beautiful dress. I was smiling, but not myself.

On my 21st birthday there was no party, no yard glass, no beautiful dress. I was smiling, but not myself.

I wouldn't usually share this because it makes me a little sad inside, but I think I have a message to share with you all, so here goes.

The picture above is of me on my 21st birthday.

As you can see, there is no yard glass, no photo board, no group of friends, no beautiful dress, no 'party' as we know it at all, really.

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And I don't particularly look myself ... I was thin, tired and unwell. Still smiling, of course! That's a part of me that was still there, but I was not exactly 'myself'.

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As far as I remember, this photo was taken within a week of leaving Wellington Hospital.

I had been there for about four weeks due to an episode of major depression with psychotic features, brought on by major stress, malnutrition, bad boyfriend/friends and one experience with legal synthetic cannabis (no causation, but plenty of correlation). It was pretty rough.

During this time I had a surreal experience, which I sometimes wish I did not remember so clearly. But I do, I remember almost all of it. I now feel as though at least these memories of unwellness might help others one day.

I'm not going to tell the actual story of my hospital stay. The point of sharing this photo is to emphasise the link between the passage of time and the long, unending process that is healing and self-care.

I went through absolute hell. Not just myself, of course, but my family and friends too. I am where I am today thanks to my whanau and friends, who believed in me and saw my unwellness as an unfortunate experience - not a defining feature of my identity.

Additionally, I've had to educate myself on issues that affect me, and I've had to work hard toward building the type of life I want for myself. It has not been an easy road, but I am so happy with how far down that road I've come. The view is looking much better now.

We have found ourselves in a time where people feel they have such high standards to meet that they are not good enough for this world. People who are suffering are scared to reach out, for fear of judgement or of being 'taken away' for treatment.

People don't know how to communicate to those around them, even those closest to them, that they are struggling. And ultimately, people feel alone in their struggle.

Getting help for one's mental unwellness should not be a scary task – just as you would not fear your doctor or your friend or family member's view on a broken leg or a recurring migraine.

Generally, people are too scared to reach out when they are struggling.

Generally, people are too scared to reach out when they are struggling.

But we do have fear – not only of entering into the mental health system, but of those who have been through the system themselves. I hope that by opening these topics up for discussion, it will mitigate some of that fear.

This apprehension of seeking help is evidence to me that our mental health system is failing. But the only way we can make change is to be brave, use our voices, and tell those who have the power to make change that change is needed – as soon as possible. Preferably yesterday, but now will have to do.


My path to wellness has not been an easy road, but things are looking up.

My path to wellness has not been an easy road, but things are looking up.

I had always imagined I would have a massive 21st party – celebrating with all my friends and family, sharing stories and drinking way too much beer from a ridiculously oversized and impractical vessel.

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But instead I was allowed a glass of wine, had a roast meal, ate some cake, and listened to Adele and Amy Winehouse with my mother and aunt, who made sure I was out of hospital by my birthday so that I could have a small slice of normality. But, of course they looked after me like the precious and fragile being I was at the time.

I used to feel shame about being this fragile girl – I didn't want the world to know how weak and out of touch I had become.

But now that I am stronger, I only look back at her with love. I look back with gratitude that she held on and kept going. And I now reflect on this time with understanding that unfortunate experiences such as my own happen often, and that I wasn't, and am not, alone on this journey.

Everything is a process, and the only constant is change. I am so grateful for where I am today because of where I have been.

We must remember that the human brain is an incredibly flexible organ. It can dip and dive, and send us to places which feel like hell on earth. But also, thankfully, it can repair and rebuild, rewire and reset, and have us feeling better again when we feed it with the right nutrients, words and environments. Even if it does take some time to get there.

I think it's important to maintain some transparency with these matters, particularly at this time where so many of our people are at risk. However I must note that despite my personal experience and relevant studies, I am in no position to give medical or professional advice.

If you or someone you know is in a bad place, make sure professional help is sought. It is scary at the time, but it's better than the alternative. We all have a role to play in the script of life – you wouldn't have been cast, otherwise. Luckily, though, the story isn't written, and you can always make a move toward a healthier, happier future.

I wish you all the best on your personal journeys.

Antonia Smith is a Massey University BHSc student majoring in psychology.


Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757

Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116

Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email

0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at

Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.

Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.

For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).

 - Stuff Nation


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